More teens having babies

Around 50 babies are born each year in the Cayman Islands to girls aged 15 to 19.  

Compared to other developed, industrialised nations this figure, which translates to around 6 per cent of all live births, is high. As this does not account for miscarriages or terminations, the number of teenagers becoming pregnant could well be higher.  

Whether a pregnancy is the result of rape or defilement, or of a single, irresponsible act between a young girl and a young boy, these teenagers are legally obliged to see a pregnancy through and assume all the responsibilities that having a child entails.  

“As we know, abortion is illegal here,” says Miriam Foster, Programmes manager at the Family Resource Centre. “Those that can afford it may go overseas and we know there are some doctors that will do it here. But then there’s other people that try to abort their own babies. We had two moms in the programme who had attempted that. They were not successful, but made themselves very sick.” 

Pregnancy at such a young age is far from ideal, whatever one’s circumstances, but for many of teenagers who fall pregnant in Cayman, the odds are stacked against them. They may receive little or no support from their own family, or from the father of the baby, and until recently were required to leave school, leaving them with no qualifications and limited employment prospects.  

“They’re often not getting support from their families. Their own families are already overwhelmed, stressed out and have a lot on their plates,” explains Ms Foster. “Some of the girls may have behavioural issues, so things were already bad, and then bam! They’re pregnant.”  

The news can be the final straw, especially in a single parent family, which struggles financially.  

 

Repetition 

Teen pregnancy is a pattern that is often repeated and some of the girls enrolled in the Family Resource Centre’s Young Parents Programme are themselves the daughters of women who went through the same programme as teenagers. 

Not every baby born to a teenage mother was unplanned or unwanted. Their reasons for having a baby may be far from ideal, however. “Sometimes they have a baby because they want to be kicked out of a foster home, or out of school,” says Ms Foster. “A lot of them have babies because they want someone to love them the way they have always wanted to be loved. The baby can provide that at first, but once they lose a bit of cuteness or start to misbehave, they are much more at risk of abuse or neglect. That’s when the mothers are likely to have another one.” 

Indeed, it’s not uncommon statistically for teenage mothers to have a second child within two years of the first.  

 

Fathers absent 

Of the teenagers that enroll in the Young Parents Programme, Ms Foster says, very few of the girls are in relationships with the fathers, although some are a presence in their lives to some degree. In eight out of 10 cases, she says, the father will not play an active role in their child’s life, or be in a relationship with the mother.  

Prior to March this year, when the new education policy on School Age Pregnant and Parenting Young Persons was approved, girls who were known to be pregnant would have been asked to leave school, without completing their education and therefore limiting their future employment prospects.  

“For a child to have a parent that has never graduated high school is not helpful in any way,” points out Ms Foster. The new policy does, however, aim to ensure that pregnant or school-age mothers are kept in learning for as long as possible.  

 

Young Parents Programme  

The Family Resource Centre’s Young Parents Programme aims to provide pregnant teens with the skills they will need to bring up a child and hold down a job, as well as being a consistent source of support to young mothers who often have little else in terms of emotional or practical support.  

Ensuring teenage mothers can provide a safe and loving environment for their babies is a primary concern.  

“Our priority is the Nurturing Parents Programme,” explains Ms Foster. “We’re trying to break the cycle of ineffective parenting, or at least show them how to show love. Often they haven’t been shown love and don’t always understand that a baby needs love and affection, as well as to be fed. We teach them things like, when they are feeding their baby, don’t be holding the bottle out to him or her with one hand while you are playing with your phone with the other. Babies need to be held, to feel love and security. 

“The Nurturing Parents Programme is paired with an assessment that gives us an idea of the level of risk a parent has towards abusing or neglecting their child. It shows us whether they’re lacking empathy, expectations are too high or there is use of corporal punishment.” 

While completing their education will leave young mothers better qualified to find a job, the Young Parents Programme complements that with the workforce readiness programme, which aims to make teens think not only about finding a job, but holding on to it for the long term.  

The two together may help to break what is often a recurring pattern: babies born to very young mothers, who have no qualifications and therefore can’t hold down jobs and are often too emotionally immature to raise 
a child.  

Young parents who are enrolled in the programme also have access to a monthly stipend through the Department of Children and Family Services. For the budget period of 2012/13, DCFS assisted 25 young women – only about half of the teenagers that gave birth that year. Indeed, although the FRC programme is free of charge, not all pregnant teens are enrolled in it.  

 

Sex Education 

While the FRC and DCFS do what they can to assist teenage parents, it’s not a solution to the problem.  

Breaking the cycle of teen pregnancy, lack of education and poor parenting requires not only parents, but also schools to address the matter effectively.  

“We wait too long to talk to our kids about sex and the responsibilities that come with it, and if we wait too long, someone else may do it, and not give them the right information,” adds Ms Foster. “It’s important to do this in the right way. If what they receive is that sex is a negative thing, that it’s wrong, that can make it forbidden and then it becomes enticing – or it can paint a very inaccurate picture.” 

Although all government secondary schools are obliged to teach sex and relationship education, according to the Sex and Relationship Education Policy, parents have the right to withdraw their children from part or all of any sex education provided.  

“We cannot focus only on females, but we must also work together to ensure that appropriate messages and education are targeted to males as well,” says Alicia Dixon, director of DCFS. “Within families and communities, we must not condone or look the other way when older men are engaging in inappropriate relationships with teenage girls.” Additionally, she says, young men should be encouraged to stay in school and live up to their responsibilities should they become a teen parent. Ms Foster echoes the same sentiments.  

“Some of the teenage fathers have multiple pregnancies going on. I’ve heard boys in high school saying things like ‘When I grow up I’m going to have eight baby mamas’ like it’s a sign of their manhood – it’s like, ‘look what I have accomplished’. There’s more to being a father than having children though, and boys need to be educated about being fathers.” 

In addition to providing teens with accurate information about sex and its possible consequences, Ms Dixon says young women need to work on their self-esteem and value as individuals.  

“Many young women get cau
ght up in issues surrounding wanting to feel loved and having a sense of belonging. Continuous education in regards to teen pregnancy and motivating our young women to stay in school working towards the completion of their education is critical,” says Ms Dixon.  

Sex education that focuses on abstinence alone does not work, says Ms Foster. “We need to be talking about decision making, long term plans and give them a sense of empowerment.” 

Providing support for teenage mothers is a Band-Aid solution. The real goal is preventing teenagers from having babies that they are not emotionally or financially equipped to cope with. 

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Around 6 per cent of all live births in the Cayman Islands are to girls ages 15 to 19. – Photo: File
Getty Images/BananaStock RF
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2 COMMENTS

  1. This should not come as a surprise to anyone. I have been talking for years about irresponsible parenting and the lack of accountability and personal responsibility.

    A lot of the girls that are getting pregnant are themselves the product of single parent homes. However, when I talk about the negative impact of this type of environment on children the trollops pounce in an attempt to justify their own irresponsible actions.

    When will this madness stop and when will we as a society stop treating single parents like victims and start treating them like the child abusers that most of them are.

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  2. Without addressing serious issues brought up by this article – just take a moment to think about how far our society diverged from natural way of thing, as biologically 16-20 years is the best time to have first baby. When such thing happens in our society it is usually an indication of some problems.

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